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Jul 28, 2011 02:08 PM

The Ethics of Foraged Foods [split from Ontario]

(Note: This thread was split from the Ontario board at: -- The Chowhound Team)

Or so you'd think, aser. I have major issues with "foraged"(i.e., "stolen")items that show up late each spring in these markets--ramps, mushrooms, etc.--supplied by "sustainabillys" who've never met a woodlot they wouldn't clean-out and trample for a buck.

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  1. Right, I forgot that angle. Yes I saw foraged aka stolen stuff at Duff and Wychwood this year.

    I was only thinking in the context of the OG post, reselling food terminal produce.

    1. I'd love to hear more about this. How do you determine who owns it in the first place, exactly? And how do you know if someone is doing a 'clean-out and trample' or being more respectful in their harvesting? Details, please!

      14 Replies
      1. re: dillybravo

        Err, how 'bout surveyed fenced non-public land replete with adequate signage. Then there's widespread ATV damage to woodlot floors and everything growing on it and/or near total removal of ramp beds(FYI these don't come back once they're yanked), smashed trilliums and trout lily spreads. All this happened to friends' land until they managed to get charges to stick. They had to run more clowns off this season, too. It's an easy buck that some just can't pass up. The results aren't pretty.

        1. re: Kagemusha

          Totally agree with that. But how do you know if someone is doing what you describe, vs. being more respectful in their harvesting? This I would like to know. Or are you suggesting that even people who are doing it on their own land, or land they have permission to access, and not picking all of the wild leeks or ginger or what-have-you, are still committing some sort of sin?

          I am honestly curious, not quibbling. Though I will admit that your comment seemed to me to suggest everyone selling foraged foods at farmers' markets in Toronto was a thief. I imagine you had something more nuanced in mind than that, though, and I'd love to hear what is was.

          1. re: dillybravo

            The issue is two-fold:

            1. You don't get to forage on private land. There's a different word for that—theft. If there are signs saying no trespassing, then you are committing a crime.

            2. If you're foraging on public land (or with permission) and you're taking more than 10% of the available product—as close to a standard as ethical foragers come—then you are a douchebag.

            The problem, and it's certainly not limited to Toronto-area farmers markets, is that the rarer the item, the more expensive it is, and the more tempting it is to go clear out a bed of ramps. (Here, it's chanterelles and muskberries—people scour Yosemite looking for muskberries and clear out acres of them.)

            1. re: dillybravo

              What's next, dillybravo? Sock puppets to explain what comprises theft and trespassing? Think my example was clear enough. "Foraged" ramps? There's no other kind.They often move through several sets of hands before they hit the market table which obscures how they got there. They seem seldom--if ever--to come off the land owned by the vendors. Isn't that what defines a farmers market? The collateral damage is equally problematic.

              1. re: Kagemusha

                No need to be malicious about it, Kagemusha. I asked a clear question, which you keep dodging for some reason, and are now getting all emotional about: what about people who aren't trespassing, and are picking sustainably? I just feel this discussion is a bit one-sided.

                Full disclosure: I research wild foods in the Canadian context, and I have no financial interest in any of it. I think these questions are very important because we are going to see a lot more development in this sector in the next few years, and I think that threatens a lot more of the deplorable conduct Kagemusha and Das Ubergeek have discussed.

                I have indeed found that many products move through an at times lengthy commodity chain, although often it is not as lengthy as you might think, and there are various levels of controls depending on who is doing the buying. Depending on the vendor, that can be more or less opaque, and I agree that a lot of the time, at the harvest end, it probably does involve trespassing and/or overpicking.

                But not always. I know of at least one vendor who forages only on land personally owned or with direct permission, and when on Crown land, only in reasonable qualities. Wild leeks (which I assume is what you mean by "ramps," people seem to get these things confused) are purchased directly from the picker, who picks her own land only, and in sustainable quantities, because she wants to pick and sell again the next year. The buyer is also careful to purchase other products only from vetted suppliers, and absolutely disdains trespassing and over-harvesting as much as Kagemusha does, if not more.

                A big part of the problem is that people, at markets and restaurants, aren't willing to pay the premium this requires, and instead buy the cheaper product from the thieves. This is more and more an issue as popularity increases.

                It seems to me another big problem is people like Kagemusha, who paint everyone with the same brush, making it impossible to distinguish the two.

                I think there is an interesting debate to be had about whether even the own-land, sustainable-quantity picking is a problem, because it creates a market for others who won't be "ethical" about it, if that's the word. But perhaps this is not the venue for that.

                Still curious to hear more about your thoughts and feelings on the matter, if you can be civil.

                1. re: dillybravo

                  very well said dillybravo, I too know a few respectful foragers, who also use family owned land and don't rape the property. It is not really a fast buck as the time it takes to pick, process and deliver to market is not really going to make these people a huge sum of money. These people enjoy being outdoors and spending their "down time" in the country. The broad generalizations of all foragers are thieves is really an unfair statement, as most generalizations usually are.

                  1. re: dillybravo

                    Sorry, dillybravo, but "sustainabillys" are a genuine problem. I've seen ramp spreads cleared on both public and private land with, as I've pointed out, widespread collateral damage to woodlot floors. Unless or until you can verify(good luck)where and how these products came to market, you're just part of the problem--whatever claims you make.

                    There's game farming that cuts out the market for poached/uninspected product. Maybe the same scheme for wild flora would cut down the damage. Until then, it's open season. They're just plants, right?

                    At present, there's a bunch of hypocrisy and self-justification in play. I'm disinclined to accept the idea of an "ethical forager" as anything other than an oxymoron or apologia for making a fast buck at the expense of the environment.

                    The burden of proof is on you, not me, to argue otherwise.

                    1. re: Kagemusha

                      The inherent problem is the scope of demand, which we're partly to blame. If you're just picking for yourself, harvesting sustainable isn't a big deal. How much ramps can a family of 4 eat?

                      The problem is vendors picking on behalf of 50 families of 4 weekly, or selling to restaurants. Harvesting sustainably in that context becomes pretty much impossible if you're working by yourself. The temptation to poach an entire field to save yourself days of extra work is well, simply too high imo.

                      1. re: Kagemusha

                        It's a message board not a court of law.

                        1. re: jamesm

                          Those busted foragers did make it to court and got charged and fined.

                      2. re: dillybravo

                        The issue is honestly that even people who will grill vendors mercilessly about the provenance of strawberries ("Are these Seascape or Chandler? Where are they from? Oxnard? Where exactly in Oxnard? Are they sprayed? No? Well, how do you control pests? With complementary plantings? Which plantings? Onions? What kind of onions?", etc.) will have a complete shutdown of their mental capacities and stand there going "OMG! RAMPS! SQUEEEEEEEEE!" and plunk down their money.

                        1. re: Das Ubergeek

                          That's a very interesting observation. I do think a lot of people read "wild' or "foraged" and assume there is no possible problem with it, because the whole ethical eating thrust has often focused on industrial agriculture, etc., and since it's "all natural" it must be all good, right? Perhaps this also shows that people don't really care so much, in the end, about ecological or social justice, and are more concerned with not compromising their own personal health with chemicals, or some such.

                          I've found grilling vendors about provenance, non-foraged or foraged, is often useless, because the answers you get aren't necessarily the whole story, and hardly anyone knows enough about it to ask questions and interpret the answers in ways that would reveal that.

                          1. re: dillybravo

                            It's really just another co-dependency: hip consumer/all-too-willing supplier. People scarfing up ramps in the early Toronto markets are either resto-connected or "Bobos in Paradise" types who take Michael Pollan seriously. All of 'em swallow the "foraged" pitch whole.

                            1. re: Kagemusha

                              Glad to see this fired up again. So, what is the "foraged" pitch you speak of? Do you mean some equation of hip with sustainable, in a kind of greenwashing? Is there any benefit to eating this stuff in your opinion? I think a lot of people are after that, though a lot seem to like novelty, too. But I'd be very grateful to hear more from you or others about how you think on it or how you think others do.

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